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Filing of transcript can be determinative in Georgia appeals

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently heard a legitimation case that highlights the importance of including a hearing transcript with the appeal in Georgia. Charlot v. Goldwire,A11A0684 (2011). In that case, the trial court granted the father’s petition, awarding the father joint physical and legal custody of the one year old child with the mother designated as the primary physical custodian. Id. at 2. In addition, the trial court ordered the father to pay child support in accordance with the parties’ respective incomes and the child support worksheet, and awarded attorney’s fees to the mother. Id.

The father appealed the custody/visitation determination, the child support amount, and the award of attorney fees. The Court of Appeals of Georgia quickly dismissed the father’s arguments as to custody/visitation and child support, as there were no hearing transcripts included with the appeal that would detail what happened at the hearings. (Child support worksheets were included.)Id. at 3. Therefore, the Court of Appeals had to assume that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s findings.

The lack of a transcript helped the father on the attorney fees issue, however, as the award was vacated. According to Georgia law, a court is authorized to award attorney fees in cases involving paternity, but the fees must be supported by statute of contract. Id. at 5; OCGA §19-7-50. In this case, “the trial court failed to identify in its order assessing attorney fees the basis on which the fees were granted,” and there is no transcript of the hearing to support the reason behind the attorney fees award. Charlot, at 6. The Court of Appeals held:“Where the record does not contain the basis for the award in either the order awarding attorney fees, or a transcript of the attorney fees hearing, we are unable to properly review the claim,and the attorney fees award can not be sustained.” Id.

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